The world’s most powerful investigative unit can’t crack a cellphone because of a simple security feature that’s available on every iPhone currently on the market.
The FBI don’t have the four-digit password to get in through the front door of an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernadino, California shooters. And after a specific number of failed attempts to unlock the phone, the unit will erase all the data contained on it.
But what you may not know is that it’s a setting that anyone can turn on or off in seconds.
On Wednesday morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced on the Apple website that the company will fight a federal magistrate’s order to help the FBI hack an iPhone belonging to Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the Dec. 2 attack that killed 14 people, because the process would potentially undermine encryption for millions of other users.
But the fact of the matter is that anyone with an iPhone can foil hackers and even the FBI by going to Settings > Passcode on their iPhone and turning on the option to erase all their phone’s data after a certain number of failed attempts.
Consider it an automatic self-destruct command – once it’s set, the brute-force approach to hacking by using thousands of number combinations will quickly result in erasing all your data.
The feature is even enabled by default for phones using iOS9.
According to Cook, Apple would be required to build a new version of the company’s iOS software in order to bypass this simple security function. And that, he says, is an example of government overreach.
“In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession,” Cook wrote. “The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a back door. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”
In the meantime, turning on this simple setting will prevent your data from falling into the wrong hands – including the FBI’s.